Last week, I went to a debate hosted by the RSA – entitled the “Great Digital Seduction” which is, in itself, a wonderful title.
There were two speakers:
Andrew Keen – the man who wrote the book “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting Our Economy” and Tim Montgomerie, editor of ConservativeHome.com and BritainAndAmerica.com.
The whole debate was controlled and spiced up by Matthew Taylor, the Chief Exec of the RSA. And, frankly, he was brilliant. I urge you to attend one of these sessions just to see him in action. You can’t but be impressed with his intellectual presence and speed.
In essence, the debate was whether Andrew Keen was right or wrong… although, personally, I thought he was both right AND wrong. I’ll explain…
The basis of his book, as you may know, is that the explosion of blogs and Web 2.0 sites/applications promoting the explosion of home media and ‘user generated content’ (particularly YouTube & Wikipedia) will ruin us. And, I say ruin, because he’s pretty passionate about it – he believes firmly that we are going to teach our kids to believe in half-truths and fictional accounts.
He went on to complain about the influence of brands and advertisers on the content available on YouTube as well as damning politics for stooping to the same level in the current US election.
Now, he certainly had a great point – which is the risk that we read blogged news reporting as factual. Which it clearly isn’t always. And, I’d have to agree with him that newspapers will bring stories to our attention from a more (although only ‘more’) unbiased perspective and with more thorough analysis of the situation.
But, and it’s a massive BUT… blogging depends on the author. Some will be experts in what they write about – some will be fans – some will be pretty darn knowledgeable and could even be more aware of the broader issues than a journalist assigned a new topic. However, others will be disgustingly biased and totally unfettered by truth or ethics. That is for us to filter out.
Meanwhile, Wikipedia is not 100% free-form thinking – it is edited by experts and scanned by editors for bias and commercial misrepresentation.
Matthew (the afore-mentioned Chair) pointed out a few facts along the way too – for starters, people who read blogs are more likely to read differing points of view than newspaper readers. So the idea that people seek out their own opinion and cement it isn’t strictly an Internet problem. And, Tim, who turned out to be a very convincing and rather balanced counterpoint to Andrew Keen.
All in all, it was a fascinating debate and the audience were lively and just as interesting. Personally, I left thinking that Andrew had a point: we mustn’t lose track of real journalism in the excitement of online publication. And the value of editing can be underestimated. But I couldn’t agree with a lot of his further ranting about the evils of Wikipedia and YouTube.
At the weekend I was reminded of this when I read this article in the Sunday Times. It highlights the mass commentary that has taken place on Madelaine McCann’s parents. And asks whether we’re really OK with our vitriol.
I’m not. Whatever the outcome, I know one thing for sure – I don’t know enough about their situation to judge them. But I do know that they must be going through hell. They certainly don’t need the slanderous commentary that has emerged in the world of web 2.0. Nobody does. And suddenly, Andrew Keen starts to sound a lot more reasonable again…